Eating Your Way through Reykjavik: Top 7 Traditional Foods
Updated: May 15, 2020
Reykjavik, the capital city of Iceland, unexpectedly became a food city for me. Everything was so fresh! Being an island, their seafood did not disappoint. However, I was highly impressed by other food items, especially their desserts. WARNING: Iceland is *MAD* expensive! As a result, you need to be strategic on how you dine. For example, we did a food tour that served as our dinner and we were more than stuffed. We would often order several smaller items in the restaurant and split it so that we can try different items. Although similar to some Scandinavian countries, Icelandic food (overall) is very unique! Here are my top recommendations for #traditionalfoods to try as well as some of the best food spots to find them!
1. Kjötsupa – Traditional Lamb meat soup
This is a dish eaten by most Icelanders during the cold winter months and with good reason! Having this on a food tour during a winter storm hit the spot. This soup is typically made from lamb, vegetables, potatoes, turnip, and carrots. It can also be made with leeks, onions, and dried herbs.
As a person who is not a fan of lamb, I fell in love with this soup as it reminded me of a goulash I had in Budapest. This is made from tougher cuts of lamb along with a variety of Icelandic herbs & vegetables including potatoes and carrots.
Recommendation: Íslenski Barinn. The restaurant makes the broth very flavorful! The name of the restaurant translates to Icelandic Bar. However, they have great food that goes beyond your typical bar food.
2. Plokkfiskur - Fish Stew
It is not what you think. This is quite tasty, and trust me, I am a picky person. This traditional dish is typically made with boiled codfish along with potatoes, onion, flour, milk/cream, butter, salt and pepper that is mashed or scrambled. In the past, it was used as a way to make use of leftovers. Today, it is a common dish many look forward to.
Recommendation: Messinn Seafood Restaurant. The small restaurant specializes in seafood. They have some of the freshest seafood dishes I have ever tasted. I highly recommend also ordering their Arctic Char that is grilled in honey and almonds.
3. Hákarl – Fermented Shark
This is something that I would try as a bucket list item, but would not necessarily recommend having as a meal. In the past, Greenland shark meat was buried in the sand for about 3 months, prior to being hung for another 3-4 months to dry. Now they are cut up and placed in boxes for 2-3 months to be fermented and then hung for a few months to dry. This process is important because fresh Greenland shark is poisonous. Fermented shark is often served in cubes on toothpicks and is eaten year round by Icelanders!
Recommendation: Íslenski Barinn. At this restaurant, you can get a small sample of this unique delicacy. It was not as bad as I thought, but I did also try a very small cube.
4. Icelandic Fish
This is an absolute must -- thank me later! Considering that Iceland is literally located in the middle of the ocean, it makes sense that fishing is a huge part of feeding the country. There are at least 340 species of saltwater fish -- WOW! As a result, there are plenty of fish to choose from. I highly recommend the Arctic Char, which is often prepared grilled with nuts on top.
Recommendation: Messinn Seafood Restaurant. The small restaurant specializes in seafood. While you are there, make sure to try the fish stew (plokkfiskur) as well.
Recommendation: Skal This small Michelin spot located in the Icelandic Hlemmur Food Hall also prepares a great grilled Arctic char. I would recommend going there to try many of their small plate options!
5. Pylsur – Hot Dog
Before even getting to Iceland, I heard about these famous hot dogs. Of course, I had to figure out what the big deal was. They are definitely different from what I have had in the states, but are fairly similar to what I have had in Denmark. These hot dogs are made from a blend of beef, lamb, and pork. The Icelandic hot dog is topped with raw onions, deep fried onions, sweet brown mustard, ketchup, and a creamy remoulade. Interestingly, ketchup is put on the bottom of the hot dog instead of on top.
Recommendation: Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur. The lines are often long, even in a snowstorm. It’s best to bring small cash. I had mine with deep fried onions, raw onions and ketchup on the top and bottom. It’s so good, we ate here twice!
6. Skyr- Yogurt
If you walk into any food market or store, you will probably see Skyr being advertised or sold. Skyr is an Icelandic yogurt that is thick and creamy that is often served with a berry jam. It is very similar to Greek yogurt.
Recommendation: Blue Lagoon. I sampled Skyr as part of a delicious smoothie. Super fresh and tasty. You can buy it at the cafe or at the walkup bar in the Blue lagoon.
7. Rúgbrauð – Dark Rye Bread
Overall, the bread in Iceland is AMAZING! I could not help myself but to ask for seconds and thirds. It is no wonder that it is popular to eat in Iceland. Rye bread is served in many ways in Iceland. While there, I had it topped with smoked trout, in ice cream and with butter.
Recommendation: Cafe Loki. Here you can get a taste of rye bread smoked with trout AND the rye-bread ice cream. The rye-bread ice cream, served with whipped cream and caramelized rhubarb syrup, has a very unique texture and is SOOO GOOD. This cafe is conveniently located right in front of the famous Hallgrímskirkja church.